Kenya Featured, Countries
Kenya is arguably the most famous East African Safari destination - most likely by virtue of its bygone days of decadent colonial lifestyles immortalised in colourful books and movies like “Out of Africa” and “White Mischief”. It’s also one of the favourite areas to watch the world-famous Great Migration that takes place every year (Masaai Mara) and it’s recognised as one of the premier ‘beach and bush’ safari and seaside destinations.
* Kenya Highlights
- ∞World-class safari destinations
- ∞Endless stretches of tropical beaches
- ∞Superb 'beach & bush' combinations
- ∞One of the sites of the "Great Migration" phenomenon
- ∞Tropical, year-round destination
- ∞Huge selection of national parks, each with its own unique attractions
- ∞Spectacular views of Mount Kilimanjaro
With a rich colonial history, some of the world's most famous safari reserves and miles of tropical beaches, Kenya is arguably the best-known East African safari destination, perfect for 'beach & bush' getaways and for witnessing the "Great Migration" that takes place annually. This all adds up to make Kenya one of the most high-density safari areas with an overflow of tourists that can make good game-viewing rather challenging at times.
But, armed with a little knowledge and good advice about where to go – and when – Kenya can offer you some of the most incredible game lodges and unforgettable safari experiences you’d be hard-pressed to beat. And if you’re looking for an authentic safari away from the madding crowds, there are many lesser-known national parks dotted through the length and breadth of Kenya that will amaze you, whether you’re in to landscapes, wildlife, birds, adventure, unusual safaris or culture.
Please note: Kenya’s e-visa must now be purchased online and prior to travel, effective September 1 2015. You must produce a printed copy of the e-visa at check-in or you won't be allowed to travel. The e-visa is valid for 90 days from the date of approval - not from the date of arrival in Kenya - which can take up to seven days.
Apply online here via your PC or mobile device. This service is only offered in English currently. You can submit photos from your mobile.
Visa exempt countries: Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Jamaica, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Samozo, San Marino, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa*, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tobago, Tonga, Trinidad, Turkey, Uganda, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Countries requiring referral visa: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Eritrea, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Senegal, Somalia, Syria and Tajikistan.
All other countries including the UK, US and Ireland, require a visa prior to travelling to Kenya. The Kenyan Government also introduced a new e-visa service for UK and Irish citizens, effective July 2 2015.
Nairobi – Capital City
A sprawling, congested African city with an array of architectural and cultural influences, Nairobi is the economic and cultural hub of Kenya, if not East Africa. It’s got a vibrant, lively culture, a rich history and offers excellent shopping, great dining and nightlife. It’s received bad publicity in the past but its “Neigh-Rob-Me” moniker seems to be thankfully wearing off.
Its international airport is Jomo Kenyatta (JKI), about 15 km from the CBD on the Mombasa road. The domestic Wilson Airport (WIL), within the city centre, is where most safari flights depart from. It’s worth mentioning that you’ll need to get from JKI to Wilson by road and transfers can often take over an hour – even longer with the constant traffic jams - so allow plenty of time. Road works are underway to alleviate the congestion but it will take time to solve the problem.
These are some of our favourite safari destinations:
Well known and one of the most popular tourism destinations in Kenya, it’s also one of the busiest and most crowded. Go in peak season and you may feel like you’re in a New York City traffic jam! This is when the world-famous Great Migration occurs, an incredible natural phenomenon involving about 1.5 million wildebeest and other plains animals which takes place anytime from around mid-June to mid-December each year. Peak season is from mid-July to mid-October, but if you can arrange your dates a few weeks outside the ‘rush’, you’re much more likely to dodge the madding crowds and still have a good chance of seeing the migration, often saving yourself quite a bit.
The Masaai Mara is in the Great Rift Valley and has sweeping open grasslands, with most of the animals concentrated towards the western escarpment area. It has some 95 species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians and more than 400 species of birds spotted have been spotted at Mara, so you’ll be in for great game viewing with a good chance of seeing cheetah, serval, hyena, bat-eared fox, jackal, warthog, topi, eland, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, impala, waterbuck, oribi, reed-buck, zebra – and of course, wildebeest in their hundreds of thousands if you’re there at the right time.
This reserve is probably the second-most famous and is also very popular on safari itineraries. On the Tanzanian border, it is just north-west of Mount Kilimanjaro and offers spectacular views of this snow-capped, towering African icon; the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. The views of ‘Kili’ at sunset and sunrise are especially breath-taking.
A large and sprawling park, Amboseli offers a variety of beautiful landscapes – from open glasslands, acacia woodlands and rocky thorn-bush terrain to swamps and marshlands. In the dry season (July to October) vast numbers of wildlife congregate here.
While not as prolific as Maasai Mara, game viewing here is very rewarding with every chance to see lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, hyena, giraffe and cheetah. If you’re a keen birder, more than 300 species have been recorded here.
Straddling the equator, Meru National Park is beautiful and untamed. Criss-crossed with numerous rivers and streams, it’s a particularly scenic park with mountains, woodlands, wide open plains and tropical palm trees.
At Meru, you’re likely to see lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant and black rhino, some of the normal plains animals like zebra and oryx and huge herds of buffalo. There’s also the chance of spotting some of the rarer antelope like lesser kudu and duiker. Its rivers are alive with hippo and crocodile.
The bird list is respectable at over 300 with species like red-necked falcon, sunbirds, Pel’s fishing owl, kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, starlings and weavers.
Much less famous, but with wildlife in abundance is Samburu National Reserve. It’s also a great safari destination to try and see the rarer endemic species like Grevy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, the odd-looking long-necked gerenuk, Guenther's dik-dik and the beisa oryx (known to the locals as the “Samburu Special Six”).
You’ve also got an excellent chance to see elephant and the big cats like lion, leopard and cheetah as well as the ever-popular wild dog. It’s a bird-lover’s paradise as over 450 species of birds have been recorded here. Some of the big draw cards at Samburu include the walking and mountain-bike safaris and the opportunity to interact with the locals in the nearby Samburu villages.
Dissected by the Mombasa highway, Tsavo has two sections, both offering different scenery and a different safari experience. Tsavo as a whole is fairly remote and wild, with little development. Less popular and well-known than many of the other parks, it offers an unhurried safari experience with surprisingly good game viewing. It is a great pairing with nearby Amboseli on your safari itinerary – and, just some 100 km from the coast, it’s well located for a ‘beach and bush’ safari combination.
Best-known for its abundance of elephant and huge herds of buffalo (sometimes 1000 strong), Tsavo East is fairly flat with wide open plains, permanent water sources and easy game viewing. It’s less developed than Tsavo West and offers a wilder, more remote safari experience.
Most of the lodges here are in the northern section, which is particularly beautiful with rolling hills and rocky landscape. It’s more lush and green than Tsavo East which makes game viewing more challenging, but it is a Big 5 destination. There’s also a good assortment of antelope, hippo in abundance and the bird life is spectacular.
Although not the biggest of parks by Kenyan standards, the Aberdare National Park offers a completely different and unique safari experience, compared to its more famous counterparts. It has two ecosystems that are totally unique to the rest of the country: moorland plateau and dense rainforests. Besides spectacular scenery, it’s home to two of the more famous safari lodges of days gone by – Treetops Lodge and The Ark – each with a rich colonial history an illustrious lists of past guests.
At Aberdare, you’re likely to see lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo as well as some rare antelope species such as the bongo (a forest dweller), the Colobus monkey, giant forest hog, golden cat and leopard as well as more than 250 species of birds. It’s a good year-round destination, too, by virtue of its mountainous setting.
The Laikipia Plateau is to the north of Nairobi and Mount Kenya, and is regarded as the gateway to Kenya’s remote and wild northern frontier country. Vast cattle ranches and private estates cover the region, many of which are now private wildlife sanctuaries. Its most famous region is undoubtedly the Lewa Conservancy, or ‘Lewa’ as it is known – one of Kenya’s greatest conservation success stories.
It’s rapidly gaining ground as one of Kenya’s best safari regions – even becoming a serious contender to the Maasai Mara as a top safari destination. You certainly won’t be short-changed on the game viewing here, either. Best of all, it’s a vast, open area with plenty room for all, so you won’t have to contend with the crazy crowds you’re likely to find in Mara.
You’ll discover a wealth of endangered species in Laikipia, like almost half of Kenya’s endangered black rhino and growing packs of wild dogs. Many of these animals are monitored 24/7, some are even radio-collared for protection.
Lake Nakuru & Lake Naivasha
Considered to be the great soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru lies some 160 km north-west of Nairobi and Lake Naivasha is only 102 km from the capital. Both offer different safari experiences and both are well placed to include on your safari.
It’s often one of the first stops included on safari itineraries for two reasons: firstly, it is renowned for its vast flocks of flamingo that thrive here – said to be a few million strong. Secondly, it’s within easy reach of Nairobi and, as it’s one of the few fenced and actively-patrolled reserves, is a safe-haven for both black and white rhino. There are many other animals here too, as well as numerous species of birds.
An ancient freshwater lake of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha is set at its highest point – 1,890 m (6,200 ft) above sea level. The lake teems with hippo and attracts every passing fish-eating bird with its healthy populations of freshwater fish like black bass, tilapia and crayfish.
Arguably one of the most famous ‘beach & bush’ destinations, it’s not surprising to find that Kenya has some of the best beaches in East Africa, where you’ll find a variety of lodges from the most rustic, to romantic hideaways, family resorts and luxurious boutique hotels. Its white sandy beaches are fringed with tropical palm trees and the warm Indian Ocean is a haven for divers and snorkelers.
Best Time to Visit
Kenya is a year-round destination. That said, the climate and weather can vary considerably depending on where you are going eg reserves at high altitude or low-lying areas or the coast. It is an equatorial country and the sun can be fierce. The prime wildlife-viewing months are generally during the dry season between late June and October. The wildebeest migration normally reaches the Maasai Mara around mid-July and they can stay around until mid-November before moving back to the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Another popular season is January to February, but as with the dry season (June – October), the well-known parks can become unpleasantly overcrowded, like the Maasai Mara, Aboseli and around Lake Nakuru. Between March and May, the rainfall is the highest and some lodges and camps close during this time, but - if you're a birder - it’s the best time of the year.
At Kenya's tropical coast, you'll find temperatures rarely drop below 20°C (68°F), even at night, with sea temperatures ranging around a balmy 25°C (77°F). Inland areas at higher altitudes can be much cooler. For example, Nairobi is 1660m above sea-level and night temperatures in mid-winter (July and August) can drop well below 10°C (50°F). Add wind-chill factor to the mix and you may find it exceptionally cold on early-morning game drives; so remember your gloves, scarves, beanies and warm jackets if you’re planning a safari during these months.
Getting Around in Kenya
The entry point into Kenya is usually via Nairobi. Most safari and domestic flights leave from Wilson Airport, 6 km south of the city. Some parks are easily to get to by road, whereas others are best travelled to by air.
A Safari Itinerary that combines Kenya with Tanzania
If your time and budget allow, and the migration season makes it worthwhile, it's often a good idea to combine Kenya and Tanzania on your safari itinerary. There are basically two ways for you to do this, and both involve flying. Oddly enough, although Kenya's Maasai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti National Parks are literally next door to each other, it's not possible for you to cross over the border by road from one reserve (and country) to the other.
Your first option for combining the Maasai Mara with the Serengeti would involve a short charter flight westwards to Mirogi Airstrip, then a road transfer across the border at Isebania where you will clear customs and immigration, followed by another short road transfer to Tarime Airstrip in Tanzania, and from there a short charter flight to one of the airstrips in the Serengeti.
Your second option (and less direct route) is to transfer back to Nairobi, and take a scheduled one-hour flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in northern Tanzania, which is the gateway airport to Tanzania's northern safari circuit. This option would typically cost you a bit less but it would mean longer road transfers and perhaps even a stopover night either in Nairobi or in Arusha. Please chat to us about your ideas and we'll be happy to help you plan the best possible itinerary for your time, budget and preferences.
When to Visit Kenya Know when is good to go…
Best time to visit Kenya: a breakdown of the various seasons to give you an idea of when to go and what to pack.
When to Visit Kenya
Before you go to Kenya Things you should know before you go!
Malaria is a consideration in Kenya
Learn more about malaria areas and malaria prevention with our resource article.
Malaria Areas & Prevention
Related Locations Maasai Mara National Park
It's said that you won't find a greater abundance of game anywhere in Africa, as you will at the Maasai Mara. Apart from the Big 5, you're likely to see a bigger variety and sheer numbers of wildlife - like the annual wildebeest migration, involving over 1,5 million animals.
More about Maasai Mara National Park